The wind died at dusk. It's a cold night for May, cold enough that only a couple spring peepers are active in the swamp. The voices of a couple anglers downriver drift in and out of hearing. Every now and then, light rain makes the surface of the river fizz like seltzer. Distant lightning fails to create thunder capable of reaching this far but is bright enough to draw attention away from the only consistent noise, sounds made by small, silver fish.
Much is done in the dark that isn't wholesome. As I have stated before, fish reproduction is careless and unromantic. Herring spawning is violent. Loud. Unpleasant. It is very fitting, then, that herring most prefer to occupy themselves in this activity after the sun has set. Though they clearly have their minds set on it all day, it usually isn't until the last light fades that their thrashing spiral dances break the peace.
It would sound to many like there wasn't much going on to be excited about. But these stripers are not hasty, they know that thrashing and crashing isn't the best use of their energy, so they ambush. Their prey are hurting themselves in their activity and are very distracted. There is no need to work hard to get a meal here.
Catching big stripers on the fly is not exactly dirty. But is is something that feels appropriate when done in the dark. To me, more appropriate than in the light. There's a creepiness to night fishing. In the light I have time to prepare for what's about to come. I see fish breaking, coming ever closer, I see a pair of bass cruising the beach line, I see a fish engage with the fly and prepare to eat. Hits are no less jarring when I'm ready for them, but in the dark, it is like being attacked by an invisible assailant. I'm not sure what hit me, I don't know exactly what's about to happen, and what needs to be done about it isn't very clear. It's that feeling that something huge that you can't see at all could hit you at any moment that makes night fishing addicting.
Moving would be time wasted. Bide time, work every long cast out, make the big hollow fleye swim like an an easy target. That is all that can be done. It takes time. Cast, fish, wait.
The herring are probably less conscious of the lurking threat than me, but they aren't fully unaware. It is often the herring that provide me with the only sign that I am about to get hit.
A cast was made in the vicinity of rolling fish. then, three small bumps. It feels like a small perch is trying to take the fly.
I know exactly what it is, but my comprehension lags behind real time and my fly has already been taken. The herring that bumped my fly running away were fast enough, but my fly was not.
Strip set. Feel the head-shakes. Try to pick up line. OK, this is the one. The reel is screaming. This is definitely the one. Keep pressure, don't let her do what she wants. Angle the rod low and palm the real. She's too strong to hold ground on 12lb, so let her go. She's slowing again, put the iron on her. Arm is starting to hurt, this is a bad angle. Turn her. Come on. Alright, she's getting close, where's my light? F***, where is it? Oh, wader pocket. Here you are, how big are you? Damn, good fish....
OK, so that wasn't the fish. But by length it is the biggest striper I've caught on the fly. She did have me thinking she was going to be. After a couple weeks with nothing but schoolies, it was a relief to have a night where all of the fish hooked tried to turn my reel inside-out. Like many a junky, I got my fix under a bridge in the shadows of the streetlights that night. And like all junkies I found that it wasn't enough. My return is assured.